What are the simple concepts that have most helped you understand the world?
May 17, 2009 5:03 PM   Subscribe

What are the simple concepts that have most helped you understand the world?

Looking back on my education, I find there are a few simple concepts I learned that contributed more to my understanding of the world than everything else combined.

For example, when I was young I thought of many stock market investment schemes that seemed to guarantee me a profit. I attempted to prove these profits mathematically. Then I took a class on economic asset pricing and learned the principle of "no free lunch": if some investment is guaranteed to beat the markets, then someone else will already have tried it, and will have skimmed any profits to be made. This principle is remarkable because it allows you to abstract away so much complex mathematics into one simple question.

What are some other simple but powerful principles -- like the golden rule, or the fundamental theorem of calculus -- that make the world's workings so much simpler once you understand them? (Note: these rules don't have to apply 100% of the time -- in fact, there are circumstances in which the above "no free lunch" principle doesn't hold.) I'm interested in any field, from pure science to human relationships.
posted by lunchbox to Grab Bag (129 answers total) 276 users marked this as a favorite
"After you apply solvent, let it sit for a while before you wipe it off." I learned it in printmaking, it works in a science lab, and metaphorically it applies to many situations.
posted by ladypants at 5:06 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Confirmation bias, which literally helps me to understand the world better - or rather, helps guard against my own (and others') biases about how to understand the world.
posted by googly at 5:12 PM on May 17, 2009 [13 favorites]

posted by found missing at 5:13 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Patriarchy: the idea that underlying and affecting all human experiences and structures there is a fundamental set of power relationships and ideologies based on gender.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:16 PM on May 17, 2009 [9 favorites]

For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher.
posted by netbros at 5:17 PM on May 17, 2009 [15 favorites]

First rule of social relationships: "Don't hurt anyone." (as glossed by J.S. Mill)
posted by puckish at 5:18 PM on May 17, 2009 [9 favorites]

Second rule of social relationships: "Your friends are watching you" (as glossed by Max Weber)
posted by puckish at 5:19 PM on May 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

A modified version of Newton's second law: Shit runs down hill. Applies to gravity, fluid dynamics, waste disposal, plumbing, and understanding workforce management.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:19 PM on May 17, 2009

Communication - its the key to everything. Family, friends, work, it doesn't matter, master being able to communicate effectively no matter what social setting you are in and life becomes easier and more enjoyable.
posted by Admira at 5:23 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

Oh, googly has a good one. I'd recommend Wikipedia's list of cognitive biases if you're interested in more like that. I think in general, knowing how your brain works really helps you understand the world.

There's a ton of little math tricks I use all the time. The rule of 72 is a good one.
posted by losvedir at 5:24 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The other Jessamyn West had a quotation that I read at a young age:

"We want the facts to fit the preconceptions. When they don't, it is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions."

I'm a stubborn person with a lot of preconceptions but this helped me sort of grok the idea that facts live in a different realm than my opinions about facts and needed to be dealt with differently. So, if I despised talk radio but also had a really awesome friend with great taste who also happened to love talk radio, that would give me pause and think "hmm, I may have to reevaluate my ideas about either a) talk radio or b) my friend's impeccable taste"

I'm also a big fan of the general question: "Do you want to be right or do you want to solve the problem?" where the credited response is quite often solve the problem.

Actually the whole idea of the "credited response" comes from standardized testing where it doesn't really matter how many ways from Sunday you can prove that your answer was right, you're aiming to get the answer that the test givers think is correct [i.e. the credited response] which taught me to see every back and forth/question and answer exercise as a method of understanding the other person, not just arriving at a solution.
posted by jessamyn at 5:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [32 favorites]

A rule that I learned very early in my education, and one that I've found to be predictive: He who smelt it, dealt it.
posted by found missing at 5:26 PM on May 17, 2009

"We judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions."

And the world would be a better place if we would strive to rise above this tendency. If we would try harder to see how our actions may appear to others, and try to see the intentions behind the actions of others.
posted by marsha56 at 5:29 PM on May 17, 2009 [48 favorites]

When people show you who they are, believe them.
posted by fire&wings at 5:32 PM on May 17, 2009 [10 favorites]

Free will - not as simple as you may have thought.
posted by Sparx at 5:32 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

"It's not about me."
posted by PatoPata at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

The Invisible hand. Basically, that people/business are all guided by individual motivations, whether monetary or otherwise.
posted by jourman2 at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seeing as my previous reply seemed to directly counter-indicate the actual question, I would add that it's the knowledge that free will is not a given that is the simple concept that has helped me understand the world.
posted by Sparx at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2009

Correllation does not imply or indicate causation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:37 PM on May 17, 2009

You can't talk sense to crazy.*

*this goes for yourself as well as others.
posted by logicpunk at 5:44 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Everything that's broken is fixable. Not everything that's fixable is broken.
posted by zerokey at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

Correllation does not imply or indicate causation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:37 PM on May 17 [+] [!]

This is exactly wrong. In order for a causal relationship to exist, a correlational relationship must exist. What you meant to say was "Correlation does not necessarily indicate causation."
posted by proj at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I came back to this thread because I remembered a good one, but I see Nanukthedog has already posted it. But to be more precise, if A and B are correlated, there are four scenarios that could be behind it:

1) A causes B
2) B causes A
3) Some third thing, C, causes both A and B
4) Just coincidence

This one helps me a lot. Whenever I hear about correlations I always go down that list in my head, and try to come up with ways to support each one.
posted by losvedir at 5:48 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Follow the money.
posted by lobstah at 5:52 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

trust but verify.
posted by chasles at 6:04 PM on May 17, 2009 [11 favorites]

To update previous answers:

"Don't hurt anyone" -- the idea that the "government that governs least" still needs to provide this basic stipulation in order for all the rest of it to make sense. (also works well as the first rule of child care)

"Your friends are watching you"
-- this is actually the wrong gloss - more like "God isn't watching you - your friends are" -- as a way of describing how quickly individual self-abnegation (fear of God) can translate into broader forms of social coercion.

Not terrifically clear from my gloss or the link -- so maybe less useful here...
posted by puckish at 6:04 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nature made us. We did not make nature.

Time is a singularly unique resource, not to be squandered.
posted by effluvia at 6:05 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you flip a coin twice, the first flip doesn't influence the second one.

With coins, it's obvious, but I remember when I used to get frustrated watching trains arrive on every track except mine. It always seemed like since the other tracks had already had their trains, it was only fair that one should now come on my track.

But, of course, if there are four tracks, each track has a one-in-four chance of hosting the next train (assuming trains run randomly on tracks). So there's a one-in-four chance that the next train will come on my track. If it doesn't (or even if it does), there's a one-in-four chance that the train after it will come on my track. It's not one long game. The game resets after each train.

Added to that, though I may wonder why "all the tracks except mine get trains," when a train finally comes on my track, I'll get on it. So I'm only ever going to see one train arrive on my track. Whereas I'll probably see many trains go by on other tracks.

My life changed a bit when I stopped thinking, "No fair! ANOTHER train that's not on my track" and started thinking, "One in four chance.... oh, well, I guess I lost that one. Okay, starting over: one in four chance... darn, lost another one. Okay, new game: one in four chance..." The universe seemed less under someone's control and more like something random (or clockwork), which I think is closer to the truth.

Another way of looking at this is to realize that humans are pattern-finding machines. It can be a really useful skill, but it can also mislead you. You will see patterns when none are there. Humans are also prone to personify everything. It's useful to step back from situations that seem rife with patterns and wonder if you're seeing correlation instead of causation. It's also worth pondering whether you're reading agency into something that's random or procedural.


Given enough time, anything is possible.

That's not literally true, of course. But it's worthwhile trying to grok really long stretches of time. Religious disputes aside, I think many people don't believe in Evolution simply because they don't have a gut feeling of the time involved. They think how could something as complex as a human arise without a designer? Even if you understand Natural Selection and mutation, it seems implausible that something complex could arise through a trial-and-error process. But it's not implausible given gargantuan lengths of time. An infinite number of monkeys...

A metaphor that really helped me was Carl Sagan's calendar. He used a month as the history of the universe with the Big Bang occurring on Jan 1st. All of human history was a little dot on December 31st.

I also like to ponder the fact that the USA is a little over 200 years old. Whereas the Ancient Egyptian empire endured for 3000 years!


Write using simple strong verbs. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Try to make all your sentences about concrete, graspable things: somebody doing something to someone. If you must write about abstractions, use concrete metaphors to bring vague concepts down to Earth. The more abstract the concept, the more nuts-and-bolts your metaphor should be.


Writing should be sensual. This applies to non-fiction as well as fiction. Why? Because readers perceive things through their senses. If you don't evoke taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing, you'll have a hard time getting readers to care about -- or grasp -- your concept.


Ego is the enemy of art.

If I'm telling a story, I should spend any time trying to impress people, trying to be original or trying not to look amateurish. Why? Because my job is not to promote myself. It's to tell a story.


People are forces of nature.

I won't debate free will here, other than to suggest that even if it exists, no one is completely free. At best, we can partially influence our behavior.

When my friend does that really irritating thing for the 15th time, I find it useful to think of him as a machine that just acts that way. Yes, it's dehumanizing, so I don't do it all the time, but it sames me a ton of frustration. I should just plan ahead, assuming he's going to do it. Because that's what he does.
posted by grumblebee at 6:09 PM on May 17, 2009 [40 favorites]

Bureaucracies and those that work in them tend to make self preservation the primary goal.

Or to quote Governor LePetomaine:
"We've got to protect our phony baloney jobs gentlemen."
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 6:12 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Damn I really have to check that I hit CTRL-C in the right tab.
Phony baloney jobs
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 6:14 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Occam's Razor - the simplest explanation is usually correct.
posted by jon1270 at 6:15 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

For example, when I was young I thought of many stock market investment schemes that seemed to guarantee me a profit. I attempted to prove these profits mathematically. Then I took a class on economic asset pricing and learned the principle of "no free lunch": if some investment is guaranteed to beat the markets, then someone else will already have tried it, and will have skimmed any profits to be made. This principle is remarkable because it allows you to abstract away so much complex mathematics into one simple question.
I don't think that's necessarily true at all. For one thing, When you have a large amount of money, attempting to buy a stock causes it's price to go up immediately. You can't participate in the market without moving the market. With small amounts of money, any strategy would get eaten by broker's fees. So there are practical considerations at the high and low end.

But more then that, there are only a finite number of market participants capable of actually coming up with ideas. The problem Is just that lots of people come up with bad ideas and lose money, so chances are your ideas were just incorrect.

Correllation does not imply or indicate causation.

This is 100% wrong. Correlation always indicates causation. It just doesn't tell you which way it flows. (if A and B are correlated, you don't know if A casues B or if B causes A, or if some other C causes both)

losvedir also made this point, but the possibility of coincidence can be discounted as a realistic possibility if the sample space is big enough.
posted by delmoi at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2009

Oh and one simple rule I think is important is not believing things you don't have evidence for, and realizing you're not as smart as you may think you are.
posted by delmoi at 6:22 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Working in quality and Root Cause analysis the biggest thing I've learned is that if you've only found one underlying problem, you haven't looked deep enough. Almost all incidents are caused by more than one thing going wrong at the same time.

And I remember when I was a kid and taking Tae Kwon Do lessons. I had two instructors that were good friends, and competing against each other in a tournament. Mr. A hit Mr. B squarely, and in full view of everyone. Mr. B raised his arms in the air and danced around like he'd won...and Mr. B was awarded the point. Attitude will take you far. And most people aren't paying nearly as much attention to you as you think. If you want credit for what you do, don't be afraid to point it out when you do a good job. They may not notice otherwise.
posted by Caravantea at 6:23 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

What goes around, comes around.

..may not be true but it has helped me walk away from many frustrating situations.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:27 PM on May 17, 2009

If it was working and stopped suddenly, there is probably only a single point failure.
To fix it, find that single point.
(Or, if the car's engine stops, you don't need a new coil AND new sparkplugs. And you certainly don't need new tires.)

The person who knows all the rules is trying to get around them.

The disaster that ends a period of exponential growth happens very suddenly.

Working hard for six hours takes no longer than goofing off for six hours. But but but...

Spend the quarters, throw back the pennies, accumulate the rest--maybe $25/year.

You can't tell when someone is lying just by looking at them (see confirmation bias).
A better indicator of lying is when the tale and reality match poorly.
Even this may not be a lie, but a misapprehension.
So what? Intent is intrinsically unknowable, and therefore a lousy basis for judgement.

As above, "secret" information is generally extremely truth-compromised.

They don't think you look goofy.
Well, maybe they do, in the limited attention they pay you.
But mostly, they think they look goofy.
posted by hexatron at 6:28 PM on May 17, 2009 [9 favorites]

Look for bullshit.

If I may quote from Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the
truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who
lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent
respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he
believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly
indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the
bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the
side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the
facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are,
except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting
away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says
describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up,
to suit his purpose.
The rule of thumb, then, is to put to one side the veracity of a statement, and start by considering whether the source would be interested in asserting it regardless.
posted by so_necessary at 6:34 PM on May 17, 2009 [7 favorites]




Advertising really works on you.
(Unless you drink store-brand cola.)
posted by hexatron at 6:38 PM on May 17, 2009

Everybody poops.
posted by swift at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

%50 of what you hear or are told is lies, and the half is bulls**t.
posted by larry_darrell at 6:52 PM on May 17, 2009

Karma: if you date a married person, that person's spouse will affect you. If you harm someone, the community will send its police after you. Those you help are inclined to help you.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:58 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:00 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:07 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Time and money. When you have the time often you don't have the money. Conversely if you have the money you don't have the time. Learn to know when you are in the sweet spot.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:10 PM on May 17, 2009

The person who cares less controls the relationship.

This simple maxim is unpleasant to many but in practice true for almost all interactions between you and an external entity, whether that entity is at the personal level (an SO or friend) or at sweeping scales. It is at the heart of understanding whether you can or cannot negotiate and the degree of latitude you have. It is a lens into reality that wishful thinking cannot provide. IMHO this is also a much more honest answer to interpersonal dynamics than "patriarchy" and similar assertions.
posted by rr at 7:11 PM on May 17, 2009 [45 favorites]

I can offer no "proof" for this, but it may be the single best thing my dad ever taught me:

"If you want something badly enough, you can find a way to get it."

Also: you get what you pay for; screw me twice, shame on me; and... if you believe that elves make the rain, every time it rains you will see proof of elves.
posted by skypieces at 7:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

All-devouring (land) rent is the primary cause of poverty and injustice in society. It's hard to sum up Georgism as a single sentence, but reading Progress and Poverty changed my views on government, taxes, poverty, and society. No small feat.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

100 years from now, none of it will matter.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A domestic gloss on entropy: The bathroom gets dirty all by itself. It will never get clean all by itself.
posted by neroli at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

Saw this on a poster many years ago, and I've yet to find it false: "You want it good, and fast, and cheap? Pick two and call me back."
posted by angiep at 8:02 PM on May 17, 2009 [11 favorites]

"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
posted by metaseeker at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2009 [20 favorites]

People are human.
posted by metaseeker at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Writing high school science lab reports:

This format works for writing all kinds of academic papers, business letters, instructions, brochures, etc.
posted by oldtimey at 8:10 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

One other one: People are in the situation they are in because on average it satisfies the majority of their needs. If you think someone is an exception to this, you may be right, but you are probably wrong.
posted by rr at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2009 [10 favorites]

1) Behaviorism
2) Fundamental Attribution Error
3) You can't please everyone
posted by puritycontrol at 8:23 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Work from the known to the unknown.

If something's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well.

If you get everything you ask for, you aren't asking for enough. (applies in bureaucracies, anyway)
posted by Rumple at 8:33 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The world is. You can feel however you want about it, but your feelings will not change the way the world is, right at this moment and your feelings will certainly not change the past. The only things you can change are (1) how you feel and (2) what you do next.
posted by metahawk at 8:38 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm about halfway through The Karamazov Brothers and Starets Zosima makes a comparison between contemplative love and active love.

"Never be afraid of your own faint-heartedness in the endeavor to love, nor even too fearful of any bad actions that you may commit in the course of that endeavor. I am sorry I cannot say anything more comforting to you, for active love compared with contemplative love is a hard and awesome business. Contemplative love seeks a heroic deed that can be accomplished without delay and in full view of everyone. Indeed, some people are even ready to lay down their lives as long as the process is not long drawn out but takes place quickly, as though it were being staged for everybody to watch and applaud. Active love, on the other hand, is unremitting hard work and tenacity..."

I think it applies to many things outside of just love (I'm trying to learn guitar for example) - basically the things that are really fantasic, beautiful and worth it are the things that are difficult and require effort.
posted by saul wright at 8:42 PM on May 17, 2009 [12 favorites]

For biology, everything is a machine.

For (bio)chemistry, most of it has to do with shapes and charges.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 8:45 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't ask for permission, just do it and have a good reason if anyone asks.

AKA "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission." When I learned this in the army it blew my mind.


In an infinite universe anything that can happen will happen not once, but an infinite amount of times.

Of course our universe isn't infinite, but this helps to explain how one in a million odds can happen on a regular basis in the scale of time and space that our universe possesses.
posted by furtive at 8:50 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Don't put anything in cyberspace you wouldn't want your mother to see, in pictures or writing. The ten commandments are a good foundation for a fruitful and guilt free life weather you are a Buddhist or a Jew. Guilt is the motivator in so many bad things, just try and stay away from things that are compulsive and stupid and may, in fact cause guilt to occur. Essentially, the "simple concept" you opine about is really just ..........."TRUTH".
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:57 PM on May 17, 2009

PS: Excellent Question by the way. Kudos!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:58 PM on May 17, 2009

Machine failure is to be expected.

I first heard that from a friend in high school. He'd just come from a computer science class at the university, and he said that the first thing the TA said to them was, "Machine failure is not an excuse. Machine failure is to be expected."

Heinlein noted (in The Door into Summer, and perhaps elsewhere) that so long as machines had moving parts, they would break. As it turns out, there are all sorts of things without moving parts that break, too. Accepting that has lowered my frustration level with the physical world quite a bit, and I think it applies fairly well in a larger, metaphoric sense, too.
posted by newrambler at 9:07 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I actually have a .doc on my computer that started as a hand-written notebook where I recorded any quotes or notions that I came across in my reading, music listening, or they just simply came to mind. Every once in a while I'll glance at for inspiration or just to simply break a monotony I may have faced earlier in the day at work. Here are a couple that always catch my eye (mind?):

"...sitting still was never enough..." - Here is No Why, Smashing Pumpkins

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense." - Buddha

"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible." – Voltaire

And my favorite: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” – Mark Twain
posted by Angulimala at 9:30 PM on May 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

Any seemingly objective statement of the facts is actually slanted by the speaker's bias.

The fact that a lot of people believe something isn't a sufficient reason for you to believe it.

The fact that you live in the country you live in, or have the parents you have, is arbitrary.

Think about what's so taboo that it isn't said even though it's true; those things are especially worth thinking of for yourself, since you probably won't hear them said out loud.

Someone with a confident demeanor is trying to persuade; their demeanor doesn't prove they're correct.

The chances are slim that a whole social movement has gotten everything right.

Money is fungible.

If the easy solution you thought of has never been successfully tried, there's probably a good reason for that.

Ask yourself why an intelligent person would disagree with you.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:47 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Seconding "It's not about me". When I realised that the vast majority of other people were too busy worrying about their own appearance/conversation topic/speaking voice to judge mine, and that random waiters, tellers or passers-by would forget me within a few minutes of seeing me, it was wonderfully liberating.
posted by andraste at 9:51 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

to go along with metaseeker's, I'd list Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

As someone who is sometimes overly sensitive and wishes people were better than they are, it has helped me get over myself a few times.
posted by sweetmarie at 10:30 PM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

You can't have everything, but you can have any(one)thing.

When somebody says "It's not the money, it's the principle," it's *always* the money. As an attorney, I've lost count of all the times people have said this to me.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 11:02 PM on May 17, 2009

This is good as anything: For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule - Buddha
posted by jcworth at 11:05 PM on May 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

Speak truth to power.
posted by aniola at 11:12 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

One of my dad's helpful sayings: there is no right and wrong; only actions and consequences.

(Lesson 1 from this: there is no objective morality; to understand people with different views, you must accept that they think they are right--it might be convenient to pretend that they're just deliberately evil, but that's not the case. Lesson 2: no matter what justification you come up with, no matter how "right" you are, you can't escape the consequences.)
posted by equalpants at 11:14 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

And of course, now I think of the other one I wanted to remember: The omnipresent "Be the change you wish to see in the world" of Ghandi.
posted by aniola at 11:14 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

What are some other simple but powerful principles ...that make the world's workings so much simpler once you understand them?

Ideology tends to disguise itself as commonsense or received wisdom. When you ask for underlying principles of things to help you understand how things work, and you get pat pieces of moral philosophy, that's a good indication that you're dealing with ideology.

"If you want something badly enough, you can find a way to get it."

Except when you can't. If you're playing cards, for instance, and what you want badly is that last diamond to go with the flush draw and your pocket ace. Then you're pot-committed and out of luck.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:35 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

There was a summer a couple years after highschool in which I read and re-read and pondered Mary Schmich's advice (often attributed to Kurt Vonnegut):

"Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen."
posted by aniola at 11:45 PM on May 17, 2009 [15 favorites]

Recursive self reference can create an apparent complexity from the simplest of beginning rules and inputs.

People will accept a large number of lies if it means they do not have to admit to themselves that they made a mistake.

People care more about what you did than what you were thinking.

Alcohol is more an excuse to act stupid than a cause of stupidity.

By the time you have paid enough attention to a work of art to know whether it was a waste of time to take seriously, it is already too late for the answer to be useful.

Redundancy fades into nonexistance (we lose track of repititions). For example repeating the same thing enough times becomes equivalent to saying nothing at all.

Our brains are state machines, when happy you can only vividly or readily remember happy moments, when sad, only sad ones, etc.
posted by idiopath at 1:37 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not covered in the wonderful pile above:

Be patient, perceptive, persistent.

Do the unexpected to win.

Figure out a way to measure it. If you can measure it, you can control it and you stand a better chance of understanding it. (Holds true for just about any complex problem.)

Set your own values.

When someone brings you an unsolved problem and a probable cause, they are often wrong about the nature of both. Make them show you the issue and devise your own strategy.

There is no fundamental emotional difference in the nature of modern humans and the ancients. They had bad days, mourned their short lives, worked hard, puzzled, laughed, drank, philandered, fought, cried, aged, and died with the same hearts we have. Our feelings are not new. Ancient literature connects us to their wisdom.

The ancients managed to do astounding mathematics feats with the force of intellect alone, not only with no graphing calculators or computers, but without critical inventions like zero, positional notation, the Cartesian plane. By comparison, simply learning anything is child's play. We flatter ourselves thinking that our problems are more complex.

The only sincere form of religion is completely silent and private. The most publicly declared evangelist is the one to trust the least.

We are the latest members of a continuum. We only feel immorttal. It isn't so. On the grand scale, we're already dead.

We are all equally ignorant when evaluated on the scale of the body of human knowledge. It is so vast, even the most brilliant among us knows virtually nothing.
posted by FauxScot at 4:21 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

In the same vein as confirmation bias, and sticking with preconceptions in the face of facts:
Most published research findings are false.
posted by roofus at 4:30 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

People lack self knowledge.

I interview people for a living. I am constantly amazed at how narcissistic, psychotic, neurotic, hysteric, passive agressive, plain old agressive (include DSM IV here) are, without even having the slightest insight in their own behavior, convictions, thought patterns and emotional shortcomings. I think psychoanalysis should be a mandatory course for eighteen year olds. It would do a lot of people a world of good.

People also lack a real interest in what surrounds them, preferring to look at the world through the filter of their narcissism, hysteria, passive agression, etc.

In sum, we are a colony of cruel, emotionally stunted, selfish, alcoholic, blind, mute, deaf worms with razor sharp teeth on a cannibalistic rampage. This includes me. And you.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:18 AM on May 18, 2009 [15 favorites]

Something my old Dad used to say, and which I'm finally beginning to understand.

"Better a has-been, than a never-was".

So even if you try something and fail, at least you've had a go at it. And as long as no-one dies, or loses their life savings, the outcome doesn't matter.

For, as my old Mum says "Do it now - you're a long time dead".
posted by flutable at 5:42 AM on May 18, 2009

Other drivers on the road do not have free will.

This may not be strictly true, but I find my drives much less stress-inducing if I cultivate this attitude. I try to think of them like water in a river I'm canoeing on: most of the time it acts in expected ways, occasionally in unexpected ways. It's up to me to be prepared as best I can for both. And if your canoe overturns, it makes no sense to get angry at the river, which simply flows as nature directs. I'm not 100% successful in adopting this attitude, but I'm getting better at it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:03 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

The chance that a quotation is misattributed is proportional to the fame of the person it is attributed to. (Note: applies to some quotes on this page.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:14 AM on May 18, 2009

Something I've been teaching media students for many years:

Convenience trumps Quality. Given a choice, humans go for the convenient solution, instead of holding out for higher quality situations/things. Map it into your context of choice.
posted by dbiedny at 6:26 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

The process of natural selection, and the idea that, as an algorithm it's greedy. Selective pressure benefits those who will thrive and reproduce under current conditions, regardless of whether those adaptations are in the long-term interest of the species.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:42 AM on May 18, 2009

Everything in reality is inter-connected, and as such, it's best to have the smallest ego possible.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:47 AM on May 18, 2009

In order for a causal relationship to exist, a correlational relationship must exist.

This is flatly untrue.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:03 AM on May 18, 2009

For example, let's say that X causes a huge increase in A and B (and X is the only thing that gives rise to A). And A causes a slight increase in C. But B causes a huge decrease in C. An increase in A would be negatively correlated with an increase in C, even though A causes C to increase. In other words, causation doesn't entail correlation because there might be other factors that more strongly go the other way.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:14 AM on May 18, 2009

One of the most useful bits of advice my mom gave me (don't know where she got it):

"If you don't know what to do, just do something."
posted by aniola at 7:36 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Learn the relationship between reason and emotion, those two horses pulling the chariot. Thoughts influence feelings and vice versa. You can think yourself mad, sad, afraid. Even when you don't think you're feeling anything you really are. Sometimes you like those feelings and so you want to think things that give them to you; sometimes you don't like those feelings, and you avoid thinking of the things that give them to you. Pay attention to how your thoughts link to your feelings so that you can think more clearly.
posted by fleacircus at 7:37 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you are feeling bad, help someone else.

Incentives matter.

Everyone has a story which would break your heart.
posted by shothotbot at 8:02 AM on May 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

The world is always in the worst mess it's ever been in.

Doesn't help me understand, but it does help me cope.
posted by x46 at 8:06 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

"When my friend does that really irritating thing for the 15th time, I find it useful to think of him as a machine that just acts that way. Yes, it's dehumanizing, so I don't do it all the time, but it sames me a ton of frustration. I should just plan ahead, assuming he's going to do it. Because that's what he does."

It was worth reading this entire thread just to read that, at least for me.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:45 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

In order for a causal relationship to exist, a correlational relationship must exist.

This is flatly untrue.

Another simple concept that helps me understand the world:

No matter how simple the concept is, someone is going to misunderstand it. Including this one.
posted by logicpunk at 9:46 AM on May 18, 2009

"All governments lie." - Izzy Stone

"The truth is more important than the facts." - Frank Lloyd Wright

"We are, after all, professionals." - Hunter S. Thompson
posted by regicide is good for you at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2009

Before you can think outside the book, you must first define the box.

When solving a difficult problem, I often hit a wall. At that point I know to try to think outside the box. What I sometimes forget is that I can't think outside a box without first knowing the box's dimensions. So step one is to slow down and make a list of my assumptions. Once I'm aware of them, I can put them aside.

The Sherlock Holmes Law: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

I'm stunned by how often people don't get this. For instance, I'll be helping a friend look for a lost object and he'll say, "Where are you going?" I'll say, "I'm going to look in the bathroom." He'll say, "Don't bother. I KNOW it's not in there." I'll say, "Well, we've looked everywhere else, so it might be in there." He'll shake his head like I'm wasting my time. Nine times out of ten, it IS in the bathroom -- especially if we HAVE looked everywhere else. Because...

Your senses and memory are faulty.

Everyone's seen the studies that show how eye-witness testimony is unreliable. Yet most people continue to insist that the infallibility only plagues others. It doesn't. IT PLAGUES YOU.

Even if you pride yourself on your excellent memory, hearing or sense of smell, you still have human biology. And human biology, though amazing, is far from perfect. That thing you're SURE isn't in the bathroom might be in the bathroom.

When you discover it IS in the bathroom, it's not a sign you're getting old or losing your marbles. It's a sign that you're human.

The third time you do something the long way, stop and invent a shortcut -- or learn the shortcut if it already exist.

For instance, I have a program on my Mac called TextExpander. It allows me to make up shortcuts that change into blocks of text. If I find myself re-typing the same thing three times, I make a shortcut for it. If I find myself re-using the same menu command in a piece of software three times, a take a few moments and learn the keyboard shortcut for it. If I just use that shortcut for the rest of the day, it moves to my temporary memory.

You can't solve a large, complex problem. You just can't. Stop trying. Instead, break it up into many small problems. Then break each of those small problems into smaller problems. Keep subdividing until you get to a level where problems can be solved with a single, easy step. Solve those problems. Don't even think about the big problem while you're doing so. Just solve the simple problems. Then gradually work your way up.

Everything can be expressed with language.

This isn't literally true, but I pretend it is. If something seems unexplainable, I take the line that I just haven't figured out how to explain it yet, and I start searching for words and metaphors.

An email/memo can should only contain one instruction. An ad campaign should only contain one message.

If you write, "The party is at 3pm. Please remember to bring a beverage," many people will remember when the party is, but they'll forget to bring a beverage. Or the other way around. Don't waste your time griping about how stupid people are. Just consider this a law of nature. If you have two points to make, send two emails. And don't try, in one commercial, to sell the fact that your product is cheap and has add-ons. A single ad should have one message. Each additional message dilutes the ad.

The most powerful form of (complex) human expression is the story.

A story has conflict. A story also has a beginning, a middle and an end. Most ideas can be expressed as stories. Expressing them this way will have more of an impact than most other ways you could express it. I'm not suggesting that if you're writing an essay on Finance, you should create characters and an imaginary world. I'm suggesting you should create a conflict, a beginning, a middle and an end.

Avante Guarde and non-linear forms can be interesting, but most are doomed to fail (or be nothing more than passing fads) because they stray from the story form.

Anything that's not part of the story weakens the story. Kill all your darlings.
posted by grumblebee at 1:13 PM on May 18, 2009 [21 favorites]

The two that have helped me the most:

#1: The only way out is through.
#2: It's better to be happy than right.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:37 PM on May 18, 2009

Ok, to go along with one mentioned earlier there's:

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man's life a sorrow and a suffering enough to disarm all hostility." -attributed to Henry W. Longfellow
"Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad." -attributed to Henry W. Longfellow


"Be kind: everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -attributed to Plato
posted by sweetmarie at 6:48 PM on May 18, 2009 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all the great answers! I am overwhelmed at the amazing insights here. Too many good ones to choose a few "best answers".
posted by lunchbox at 6:49 PM on May 18, 2009

With apologies to DevilsAdvocate:

Other [people] do not have free will.

This may not be strictly true, but I find my [life] much less stress-inducing if I cultivate this attitude. I try to think of them like water in a river I'm canoeing on: most of the time it acts in expected ways, occasionally in unexpected ways. It's up to me to be prepared as best I can for both. And if your canoe overturns, it makes no sense to get angry at the river, which simply flows as nature directs. I'm not 100% successful in adopting this attitude, but I'm getting better at it.

In other words, I think DevilsAdvocate's good advice for safe driving is good advice for life in general.

Also, see Desiderata.
posted by marsha56 at 7:58 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Machine failure is to be expected.

This. This this this this this.

Or more broadly put: You can prepare for chance occurrences, but you can't eliminate them.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everyone else has their own sorrows, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2009

Weirdly enough, use/mention errors and quantifier scope ambiguities. Once you really understand them, you start seeing them everywhere. They cause a lot of sloppy thought.
posted by painquale at 10:54 AM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I remember finding a number of gems in this book.
posted by exit at 12:50 PM on May 19, 2009

Look where you want to go.
I learned this one from my motorcycle instructor and I apply it to almost all of life's journeying.
posted by Kerasia at 7:45 PM on May 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I like a lot of the ones posted here, especially "Incentives Matter".

My own contribution:

A lot of things in the world are explained by men almost always going to great lengths to get laid. Having a world with no men would have almost no war or crime, but probably also little innovation or progress since ambition and aggressiveness drive both of those.

Disclaimer: I don't hate women.
posted by bouchacha at 6:27 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: Even if it's not your fault, you may still have to deal with it. (I think that might be Step 1 in learning to be an adult.)
posted by kittyprecious at 8:04 AM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Missed this thread till the podcast. It's brand new, but my number one favorite is from this: "A priority is observed, not manufactured or assigned. Otherwise, it’s necessarily not a priority."
posted by clavicle at 8:32 AM on May 21, 2009

Trying hard gets you A's. Not trying hard gets you B's. People don't mind B's. Stop trying so hard.
posted by dudleybdawson at 12:17 PM on May 21, 2009

Read Dale Carnegie's How To Make Friends and Influence People.

It's a self help book so old it's not kitchy, cliched, or trying to sell anything except itself. But it hammers out a lot of easy, quick, and timeless principles of human interaction that aren't changing anytime soon.
posted by talldean at 6:46 PM on May 21, 2009

Life's cycle: Create, Sustain, Destroy. We go through these phases many times in our lives. No one is better than the other. Right now, are you Creating, Sustaining, or Destroying?
posted by Merlin144 at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

The concept that most conflicts in life are not zero-sum games.
posted by kapu at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want something done it can be good, quick or cheap: pick two.
posted by itsjustanalias at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2009

"Sometimes I think the world's gone mad."

"No it hasn't. It's always been this way. You just don't get out much."
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I learned the five paragraph essay format (you know, intro, three supportive body paragraphs, conclusion) in 5th grade. It changed my life.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:16 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Diminishing marginal returns.

Beyond a certain point, whatever you add to, change, or cut from a report (or any other piece of work) will not have a great impact on the quality of work - to be more precise: it will be more trouble than it's worth. You are better off, for your own sake and that of your loved ones, to just go home and chill out. So, just hand the work in. You're just gratifying your own perfectionism, rather than improving your work. As Winston Churchill said, perfectionism is spelled paralysis.

Opportunity cost.

If you make 50 $ an hour doing stuff you love and do well, and a cleaning lady costs 11 $ an hour, you are really pissing away 39 $ every hour you're cleaning the house. Cramming cleaning duties into your weekend doesn't help either, because you should realise that down time, time spent with family and friends, is probably worth about 200 $ an hour.
posted by NekulturnY at 1:45 AM on May 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you loan someone $20 and never see them again, it is probably a good thing.
posted by holdkris99 at 9:29 PM on May 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

The concrete is better than the abstract.

- If you're worried that your life has no meaning, or if you're afraid that God is dead, or if you're terrified of Global Warming, of if you're angry about The State of The Country, ask yourself if you've really gotten to the bottom of your concerns.

These big-issue, abstract worries are one (or more) steps removed from your base nature. Dogs don't care about Global Warming. Cats don't care about politics. Giraffes don't bite their nails, fretting about the meaning of life.

Most likely, what you're really worried about is the fact that your girlfriend just dumped you. Or maybe you're scared that you're about to lose your job; Or you're lonely; Or sexually frustrated.

As scary as Global Warming is, dwelling on it is generally an attempt to elevate yourself above animal concerns. And while it's great to have noble worries, people are animals: we want sex, food, sleep and companionship. If we deny our animal nature, we deny the truth of what we are. Worse: me make it impossible to fix our nuts-and-bolts problems. You can't fix a problem if you don't admit to having it in the first place.

Most preferences for the abstract are attempts to elevate ourselves above our animal nature. Which is to say they are lies. Animals are sensual. The see, hear, smell, taste, poop, etc. Yes, man has the ability to reason; he has the ability to manipulate pure symbols. But such grand thoughts must be brought down to Earth, at least occasionally, or they become totally disconnected from who we are, where we live, and what we care about. They will also always be weaker signals to our brain than sensual data. Sand sifted through the fingers will make a stronger impression than sand just thought about.

If your knee-jerk reaction to this is to lash out at me or deny what I'm saying, ask yourself why you're so threatened by classifying yourself as an animal.

(Please note that I'm not trying to thwart Global-Warming activism or suggest it's "just abstract." I'm suggesting that if you're deeply depressed about something, it's more likely to be about something more immediate to your body and social network. At least consider the mundane before assuming you're concerned about the big picture.)

- Try things.

People suck at working things out in their heads -- in the abstract -- but they think they're really good at it. If you've decided something will work (or won't work) without actually trying it, TRY IT. Don't just assume that the image in your head conforms to reality -- even if you're SURE it does.

The only time when imagining should trump trying is when the cost of trying is extremely high.

Remember: your senses are better guides than your imagination. Your imagination can lie to you. It can be influenced by all sorts of prejudice, wishful thinking, mental blind spots and "baggage." But it's much harder to deny what you see with your own eyes, what you hear with your own ears, what you grasp in your hand. Taste the soup before you add salt to it. Maybe it's already salty enough.

Note: for some reason, this gets me in a lot of arguments. I guess it's because people are impatient when they "know" something. When people say, "Obviously, that won't work," I'm the guy who says, "Well, it will only take two minutes to try it, so lets try it." That often leads to rolled eyes and exasperated sighs. But I try it anyway. I find that even if the other guy is right -- and it doesn't work -- if I try, I'm much more sure of the result than if I don't try. The result (perhaps that it doesn't work) is in my gut.

- Work with your hands.

- the purpose of a metaphor is to make the abstract more concrete (or more sensual, which is the same thing). The further an idea gets from nuts-and-bolts reality, the more it should be buttressed with a metaphor.

Example: variables (e.g. in computer programming) are like boxes in the basement. The variable name is what's written on the box in magic marker, e.g. "socks." The contents of the box are what's stored inside the variable. Note that there's nothing to prevent you from storing hats in a box labeled "socks." It's confusing to people who are searching through your basement (so it's probably a bad idea), but the box doesn't care.

Coming up with strong, evocative metaphors is hard work. Don't expect them to just pop into your head. You'll have to make lists and brainstorm. Allot time for this. The more abstract the subject, the more time you'll need. Also, metaphors should always be a work in progress. Keep tinkering with them. Keep making them more and more apt, more and more evocative, more and more sensual.

- Avoid pronouns and non-specific nouns.

I can't tell you how many times I've been baffled by someone saying something like, "When it comes in the mail, please put it in the thing next to that other thing..." You're allowed ONE pronoun per sentence. And if you can't think of the name for something, then describe it (in concrete terms, of course). "When it" -- (if you're sure I know what you're talking about) -- "comes in the mail, please put it next in that blue container next to the round object on the shelf."

- Consider using real tools.

Computers are great. But sometimes paper and pencils are better. There's a big whiteboard in my office. When I'm stuck on a difficult programming problem, I leave my desk, walk over to the whiteboard, and start making charts, notes and pictures. Occasionally, I find myself wishing for a giant screen, so that I could use Photoshop instead of the whiteboard. But then I realize that just the act of holding physical markers in my hand and moving them about cements ideas in my brain better than pixel pushing ever could. If the particular problem can be expressed with stacks of coins or groups of paperclips, even better. We evolved to manipulate 3D objects -- not pixels. If the end-result must be expressed in pixels, that's all the more reason to translate it into a nuts-and-bolts metaphor.

- Read what you've written out loud.

Out loud is concrete. It produces sounds that you hear. It forces you to move your mouth. You will find way more errors -- and learn to write in a natural, conversational voice -- than if you read what you've written in your head. If you need to keep quiet, then just move your lips as you read (or whisper). Hasidic Jews mouth words when they read. They understand that the words of God are more likely to get stuck in their craws when they're not just thought about. When they're forced into the mouth.

- The best art tickles our animal impulses. It doesn't distance us from them. This is why sensual art will always move people more than conceptual art. It's why narrative forms will always engross people more than avante-guarde, non-linear ones. We're used to beginnings, middles and ends: sunrise, day, sunset... birth, aging, death...

If you're committed to conceptual art and non-linear storytelling, then make sure the details of your work are tied to the sensual. It's fine to break the fourth wall, but when you do so, pass out pieces of chocolate, not nuggets of philosophy.
posted by grumblebee at 8:05 AM on May 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

The concept of white privilege.
posted by girlmightlive at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2009

I don't remember where I heard this, so I can't properly credit the source (it may have been on MeFi, for all I know):

"It is commonly said that opportunity knocks only once. This is untrue. Opportunity knocks so frequently and so loudly that many people just tune it out."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:50 PM on May 28, 2009 [29 favorites]

1. Upon having been caught stealing a pack of gum from the kitchen cabinet, my mother said to my young self, who had denied the crime: "If you give it back to me now, I won't be mad at you. But if I find out you're lying to me, I'll be very very angry."

2. "I used to spend a lot of time being concerned with what other people were thinking of me. Then I realized that they weren't."

3. One cannot learn about intimacy or relationships, if one avoids them.

4. The perfect is often the enemy of the good.

5. Becoming an adult isn't something that just happens one day. Maturity is a choice.

6. "Do, or do not. There is no 'try'. " -- Master Yoda

7. Five years from now, you'll laugh over what worried you today.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:27 AM on June 1, 2009

During a very stressful period at work, my boss said with a big grin, "It's all fun and games!"
posted by onich at 2:30 PM on June 3, 2009

Life is what you do with what you get.
posted by nickyskye at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2009

You may be interested in a thread on Ask E.T. Grand truths about human behavior
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:30 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Action precedes motivation.
posted by aniola at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Since this thread seems to have started up again, here's another one that occurred to me since I posted:

"Cheating at Telephone". Imagine a bunch of people sitting in a row of chairs, playing a game of Telephone, whispering a sentence to each other that mutates as it goes down the line. Once the last guy hears the sentence, he jumps up and runs to the start of the line, shoves the first guy out of his chair, sits down, and declares that his sentence is the original.

I think the key to this phenomenon is that it's not just an obviously false claim of authenticity; it's also totally pointless to cheat at Telephone, since you don't even win anything for being authentic--authenticity isn't the goal, or even desirable.

I heard this phrase in a musicology paper whose author was complaining about a wave of "authentic" musicians who tried to reconstruct period instruments, etc. But you can see it happening all over the place (for example: arguments about the original intent of the U.S. Constitution).
posted by equalpants at 12:21 PM on August 27, 2009

To know all is to forgive all.

This too shall pass.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Better an unclean house than an unlived life (from my mother).
posted by jokeefe at 6:04 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everything is relative. Everything.

For example, you judge whether the price of item Y is fair by comparing it to the price of product X that you've seen before. Product X could even be item Y but back when it was a different price (50% price cuts etc). Someone can be considered beautiful if they are surrounded by "not-so-beautiful" people. Good weather during winter does not imply that the same weather would be considered good during the summer (15c/59f and dry for example).

Basically, we are the sum of all of our experiences and judge the world based on these experiences. People from different backgrounds value and see things differently. Tallest building in the world to one person is measured in metres, and to another in how many sheep could fit in the building.

Absolutely everything is relative.
posted by stevanl at 8:01 AM on December 26, 2009

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